Rumsfeld Explains Detainee Status
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2002 It is because the United States places such emphasis on the Geneva Convention that American officials do not consider Al Qaeda covered by the agreement nor are they willing to award the Taliban detainees POW status.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during a Pentagon press briefing today discussed presidential decisions that White House spokesman Ari Fleischer announced Feb. 7.
President Bush, Fleischer said, had decided that the Geneva Convention of 1949 applies to the conflict with the Taliban in Afghanistan, but not to the conflict with Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan or anywhere else. He also determined that Taliban detainees do not meet the convention's criteria for prisoner of war status.
White House lawyers thought long and hard about the situation before making recommendations to Bush, Rumsfeld said. The lawyers were worried about the precedent their decision could set about detainees in future conflicts, he added.
"Prudence dictated that the U.S. government take care in determining the status of Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees," he said. "When the Geneva Convention was signed in 1949, it was crafted by sovereign states to deal with conflicts between sovereign states." The current war on terrorism is not a conflict envisioned by the framers of the Geneva Convention, he said.
Rumsfeld stressed that from the beginning, U.S. forces have treated all Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees humanely. He issued an order in January mandating all detainees be treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Convention.
"Notwithstanding the isolated pockets of international hyperventilation, we do not treat detainees in any other manner than a manner that is humane," Rumsfeld said.
He said lawyers determined the Geneva Convention covers the conflict with the Taliban because Afghanistan is a state and a signatory of the Geneva Convention. The Al Qaeda -- as a nonstate, terrorist network -- is not.
"A central purpose of the Geneva Convention was to protect innocent civilians by distinguishing very clearly between combatants and noncombatants," he said. "This is why the convention requires soldiers to wear uniforms that distinguish them from the civilian population."
He said the Taliban do not qualify for POW status because they fail to meet the criteria. Taliban fighters did not wear distinctive signs, insignias, symbols or uniforms, he said, but sought to blend into the population.
He said they also were not organized into military units with identifiable chains of command. "Indeed, Al Qaeda forces made up portions of their forces," Rumsfeld said.
None of this legal maneuvering affects the detainees' treatment, he said. "They will continue to receive humane treatment," he noted. "They will get three meals a day, clothing, medical care, showers, visits from chaplains, and the opportunity to worship freely."
The United States will also continue to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to meet with detainees privately, he said.
"We will continue to treat them under the principles of fairness, freedom and justice that our nation was founded on -- the principles that they obviously abhor and they sought to attack and destroy," Rumsfeld said.